Monday, April 19, 2021

Bad state action arguments (Updated)

MyPillow, facing a billion-dollar defamation lawsuit by Dominion Voting Systems over Mike Lindell's post-election nuttery, has sued Dominion (note: It is a new action, not a counterclaim--not sure why). It asserts claims for violations of the First Amendment and due process.

How? Here is ¶ 89: "Defendants, at all times relevant hereto, were performing and fulfilling a traditional and exclusive state and governmental function of administering public elections, pursuant to state statutes, ordinances, regulations, customs, rules and policies established thereunder, and as such, were acting under color of state law."

Administering elections qualifies as a traditional-and-exclusive public function, when the government delegates or turns control over the election machinery to a private entity, such as the Democratic Party in Jim Crow Texas. It does not apply to government contractors who support the government in performing those traditional-and-exclusive government functions. So this argument is silly and doomed to fail. Although I suppose it at least has a better doctrinal base compared with those arguing that Twitter, YouTube, et al. act under color because managing a "speech forum" is a public function or because § 230 immunity makes them the government or because saying they are committed to free expression makes it the government.

Update: Fleshing this out a bit following an email exchange with a reader.

    First, none of this matters to the present action. Even if Dominion acted under color in performing election-related functions, it does not act under color for all purposes. The allegation in this action is that Dominion violated the First Amendment by publicly criticizing and suing MyPillow for defamation. Dominion is not under color in doing that, because it is not wielding any authority derived from government. The claim is not saved by the argument that Dominion was responding to MyPillow criticisms of Dominion's allegedly under-color election conduct. The chain of causation does not extend so far. Devin Nunes--an actual government official--does not act under color when he sues cows for criticizing how he performs his (under color of law) government functions.

    Second, Dominion's supposed malfeasance was all over the place in the post-election litigation and various Kraken and Kraken-adjacent complaints were loaded with allegations of how Dominion voting machines helped throw the election to Biden. No one thought to include Dominion in any of those suits on this theory?

    My presumption in these arguments is that Dominion's role is limited to selling/renting the machines to the government, installing them, training government officials on them, and providing technical support where necessary; Dominion is not more actively involved in running the collection and counting of votes. This makes Dominion like the company that provides tasers or handcuffs for police--even if those devices somehow contribute to the constitutional injury, providing them does not alone create state action. A greater level of joint cooperation with government officials might change the conclusion, creating joint participation and a nexus because government enables the private misconduct. (The example from a reader is police hiring private security to provide additional crowd control at a public event). The complaint does not provide any facts showing a greater level of engagement by Dominion.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on April 19, 2021 at 04:18 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Universality in Tandon v. Newsom

Christopher Sprigman started a Twitter thread contemplating what happens if California disregards or circumvents the order in Tandon v. Newsom. A different thread derides the suggestion as "stupid." I do not believe California will attempt this, so the issue is academic. But we can illustrate how litigation operates by parsing this specific case.

We need to break down what state officials might attempt to do and against whom.

Tandon was a lawsuit by ten plaintiffs, individually. Newsom and other California officials are enjoined from enforcing COVID restrictions against these ten individuals and the religious groups they head. Any attempt to enforce against them would constitute disregard for a court order. It could be punishable by contempt, sanctionable by fines and, in the extreme, jail. And yes, Biden would be obligated to send in US Marshals, if not the 101st Airborne, to enforce the court's order against state officials as to these ten plaintiffs.

No court order prohibits Newsom and other California officials from attempting to enforce the regulations against anyone other than those ten individuals. State officials therefore would not be in contempt of any court order in attempting to do so. Nor would they be "disobeying" the Supreme Court, because the Supreme Court did not order them to refrain from doing anything as to anyone other than those ten plaintiffs. And Biden and the US Marshals would play no role, because there is no court order to enforce.

What would happen if Newsom or other state officials attempted or threatened to attempt this?

    • The new targets would sue in federal court, asking for an injunction to protect them.* They should get it, although a lot depends on how much precedential force these per curiam shadow-docket "decisions" or "orders," even with five justices behind them, carry. They may carry force less as precedent than as a looking threat--lower courts are on notice that failure to enjoin will be summarily reversed by SCOTUS, which now sees it as its job to superintend litigation without awaiting finality or full briefing. Either way, it seems likely that the district court would issue that injunction prohibiting enforcement against these new targets. The new targets also could obtain attorney's fees as prevailing parties, which might be the strongest drag on pursuing this strategy. This new judgment and injunction protects these individuals against enforcement by these state officials. Were officials to continue enforcement efforts as to these plaintiffs, they would be disobeying a court order; subject to contempt, fines, or other sanctions; and subject to action by US Marshals.

[*] Alternatively, they might join as plaintiffs in the current action and ask the court to expand the injunction. There are some close Rule 20 joinder issues there.

    • The new targets also might ask for damages from the attempt or threat to enforce, even if only nominal. The question then is whether the defendants would lose qualified immunity for their actions. Is it now clearly established that COVID regulations treating religious practice less favorably than any other activity (comparable or not) violates the First Amendment? Again, it depends on how courts treat these orders as precedent that clearly establishe a right.

Would Justices Thomas and Gorsuch, both on record as rejecting application of injunctions beyond the names plaintiffs to that case, disagree with any of this?

This is the first time we have seen this idea from the left; previous talk of "resistance" efforts came from the right, in response to Brown and Obergefell. And it does no good to distinguish this case as involving a "rule that religious people get to ignore the law." Any framing--here, in Brown, or in Obergefell--reduces to disagreement with the substance of a decision and an attempt to convert disagreement into a suggestion of illegitimacy.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on April 11, 2021 at 05:12 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thoughts on Caron Nazario lawsuit

Here is the complaint. A few thoughts.

• The complaint is uniquely specific and precise about the facts because the plaintiff obtained the officers' body-camera footage and footage from his cellphone. He could review (and cite to) evidence in the pleading. No need to rely on boilerplate, to plead on "information and belief," or to plead in general terms. No Twiqbal problems here.

• The First Amendment claim is interesting. He alleges that the officers threatened to retaliate against him by pursuing charges if he exercised his First Amendment petition rights and complained, then filed false reports in furtherance of that effort. First Amendment retaliation is tough--the plaintiff must prove the officers did not have probable cause to arrest for anything, which typically  is tough to show. But the camera footage helped in framing that claim.

• The complaint does not try to do too much. Nazario sues only the officers for the immediate violations. He does not try to weave a failure-to-blank theory to establish municipal liability based on patterns of past misconduct by these or other officers. The complaint also does not spend pages weaving this action into the broader national problem of police abuse. It does not employ outraged rhetoric to appeal to the reader's emotion. Such information would not be legally important to this case (except in furtherance of the failure-to-train theory that the plaintiff does not pursue). But it would be politically important in placing this case in a bigger picture and drawing public interest and attention to the case. Beth Thornburg coined the term "pleading as press release" to describe using the complaint to speak to, and litigate one's position in, the public . Whatever the merits of doing that, it is interesting that this plaintiff and his lawyer did not try it. Maybe the video, which is all over the internet, performs the work that the language of the complaint ordinarily would perform--news stories can describe the video rather than quoting outraged rhetoric in the pleading.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on April 11, 2021 at 01:05 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 08, 2021

JOTWELL: Thomas on Coleman on the Rules Committees

The new Courts Law essay comes from Suja Thomas (Illinois), reviewing Brooke D. Coleman, #SoWhiteMale: Federal Procedural Rulemaking Commitees, 68 UCLA L. Rev. Disc. 270 (2020), which explores the race and gender composition of the rules committees and the problems lack of diversity creates.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on April 8, 2021 at 01:38 PM in Article Spotlight, Civil Procedure | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Tenth Circuit adds to the pantheon of awful qualified-immunity decisions

From the Tenth Circuit, in a case arising from Denver police seizure of a tablet computer from a bystander who filmed police using force against another person. This involves less egregious facts than six hours in a feces-laden cell or stealing coins while executing a warrant.  But it demonstrates how far afield the analysis has gone.

Denver police department told officers in their training that the First Amendment protected the right to record. The officers disregarded express departmental guidelines--that is, they knew their conduct violated the First Amendment as they had been instructed on it. The court said that was irrelevant because: 1) the officers' subjective knowledge of their wrongdoing is irrelevant under Harlow's objective standard and 2) only judicial opinions can clearly establish rights because the Constitution means what the courts say, regardless of any training by the executive department.

This seems wrong for several reasons.

First, the standard that SCOTUS has floated in recent cases is that qualified immunity protects "all but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law." What does that second point mean if it does not allow immunity to be lost when the officer knows the law and still violates it. Second, SCOTUS has looked at departmental guidance in the qualified immunity analysis. In Wilson v. Layne, the Court pointed to US Marshal regulations allowing media ride-alongs and said they could establish the lawfulness of conduct, so long as they were not obviously unconstitutional; it should follow that guidance can establish what is not lawful. In Hope v. Pelzer, the fact use of the hitching post was prohibited by Alabama Bureau of Prisons guidelines helped clearly establish the right, along with not-quite-on-point precedent. And the Third Circuit in Fields v. City of Philadelphia considered the role of departmental policy in clearly establishing a right, although the court there said the regs did not clearly establish the constitutional right because it was not clear that the regs were grounded in the First Amendment as opposed to good policy. Nevertheless, the parties and the court worked on the understanding that departmental policy is part of the analysis. At the same time, of course, the existence of department policy instructing officers allows the city to avoid municipal liability because they had trained their officers on a highly protective version of the First Amendment.

Second, the sort of naked judicial supremacy is unwarranted and unjustified. Yes, executive interpretation will yield to judicial understanding once matters hit court. But the court leaves no room for departmentalist interpretation and training.

Third, the court pulled an interesting sleight-of-hand in looking at law from other circuits circa 2014 (when these events occurred). Four circuits had recognized some First Amendment protection for recording of police pre-2014. A "robust consensus" of non-SCOTUS authority can clearly establish. But the court said none of those courts had found the right clearly established; the court was more persuaded by the non-finding of the right as clearly established (although some cases were not for damages and thus immunity was not in issue) than by the conclusion that the First Amendment was violated. And one of the cases had a dissent (Judge Posner dissented in the Seventh Circuit case), suggesting a disagreement among judges that precludes a right being clearly established.

Fourth, the court bypassed the merits. Why? Because everyone in the case agrees that the First Amendment right to record exists and was violated here. And the constitutional question is best resolved in an adversarial posture featuring powerful arguments on both sides. So these officers are off the hook, so this case does not even put the next officer on the hook for the same misconduct. So the court may have offered officials a wonderful new strategy in § 1983 cases: Concede the merits, prompting the court to skip ruling on the merits and allowing the officers to prevail on clearly established. The court will never provide the precedent it has deemed necessary. And if formal government policy cannot clearly establish a right, litigation concessions certainly cannot do so.

A depressing piece of work. I am curious to see if it survives en banc review. Or if this will be the case that prompts reconsideration of this mess.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on March 30, 2021 at 02:38 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (0)

Trying and failing to keep standing and merits distinct

The Eighth Circuit offers the latest example, in a First Amendment challenge by vegan food producers and advocates to a Missouri law prohibiting misrepresentations of products as "meat" when not derived from animals.

The majority held the plaintiff had standing but had not shown a likelihood of success on the merits entitling it to a preliminary injunction, while the dissent argued that the action should have been dismissed for lack of standing. But everything turned on the same issue--whether the plaintiffs' proposed conduct violated the law and whether they were likely to have the law enforced against them, given that they did not "misrepresent" their plant-based products as being "meat." The majority said that standing is analyzed under Susan B. Anthony List, which requires a showing that the statute "arguably" reaches the plaintiff's conduct and there exists a "credible" threat of enforcement. But SBA "does no work" beyond standing; the merits of the claim (and the first prong of your injunction analysis) asks whether the plaintiffs' conduct was "likely to be seen" as violating the statute. On the other hand, the dissent took those same facts as not establishing standing.

The majority cited circuit precedent acknowledging that standing "tracks" merits and is "closely bound up" with whether the plaintiff is entitled to relief. But the court insists they are not "coextensive" and must not be "conflate[d]." But if the concepts turn on the same fact, they are doing more than tracking one another. If two judges look at the same fact and one uses it to find the absence of a cause of action and one uses it to find a lack of standing, they begin to sound coextensive. Which raises the question of why courts bother--why spend so much time on standing only to use the same fact to find a failure on the merits.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on March 30, 2021 at 11:34 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, March 27, 2021

Court finds personal jurisdiction in Ford

SCOTUS decided Ford on Thursday, with all Justices agreeing that jurisdiction was proper. Kagan wrote for five (Chief, Breyer, Sotomayor, Kavanaugh); Alito concurred in the judgment; Gorsuch, joined by Thomas, concurred in the judgment. My SCOTUSBlog analysis is here.Kagan's opinion makes for a good teaching case, with a nice overview and summary of the doctrine (I am going back and forth about whether to use this instead of WW--I have a week to decide). On the relatedness question, Kagan concludes that a claim can "arise out of" the defendant's minimum contacts or it can "relate to" the defendant's minimum contacts; the former suggests causation, while the latter can looks for "an affiliation between the forum and the underlying controversy, principally, [an] activity or occurrence that takes place in the forum State and is therefore subject to the State’s regulation." Relate to contemplates relationships lacking that causal showing. This is where Alito jumped off. Arise out of and relate to mean the same thing and both require some causation, which was present here. Gorusch and Thomas question the entire International Shoe framework, without identifying what might replace it.
The case leaves many unanswered questions.

What is the status of the reasonableness factors that are supposed to be the third step in the analysis? The Court has not mentioned or relied on them in any recent case. But they should control the result in the local-company hypos in FN 4 of Kagan's opinion (about a retiree wood-carver in Maine) and in Breyer's Nicastro concurrence (about Kenyan coffee producers); the defendant had contacts and the contacts gav rise, but it would be unreasonable to drag these small defendants to distant forums. Kagan alludes to considerations such as fairness  to the defendant and notice to the defendant and the competing interests of the forum state and other states in adjudicating, but appears to bury them in the first two prongs, rather than leaving them as a third step.

What else would satisfy relate to but not arise under? Some courts or judges have argued that relate to allows a longer causal chain, while arise under looks for  a transactional connection. For example, in Clemens v. McNamee (Roger Clemens' defamation suit against the former trainer who narced him out to the Mitchell Commission), the dissent argued that McNamee had contacts with Texas through his training activities in Texas (he traveled there 30+ times) and that those contacts "related to" Clemens' defamation claim because the Texas-based training put McNamee in a position to know about Clemens' PED use. Brennan made a similar move in his Helicol dissent--all the contracts and preliminaries for the relationship with Helicol were negotiated and entered into Texas, contacts that made the deal, and thus the accident, possible. Would the same majority endorse those views?

There has been some interesting discussion on the Civ Pro Profs List of what must be "related" for the second prong. Is it a relationship between the defendant's contacts and the claim and the forum? Or between the plaintiff's claim and the forum? Or some combination of the two.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on March 27, 2021 at 03:42 PM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

JOTWELL: Kalajdzic on Salib on AI class actions

The new Courts Law essay comes from Jasminka Kalajdzic (Windsor) reviewing Peter Salib, Artificially Intelligent Class Actions, ___ Tex. L. Rev. ___ (forthcoming), which explores how AI might be used in class-action certification.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on March 24, 2021 at 08:48 PM in Article Spotlight, Civil Procedure | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Qualified immunity, inconsistency, and level of generality

A practical problem with qualified immunity is its inconsistency. This is especially true with respect to the level of generality at which a right is defined, which often determines whether a right is clearly established--the broader the level of generality, the more likely that precedent, created on different facts, can clearly establish. Case in point: The District of New Mexico holding that it was clearly established in 2019 or 2020 that a local elected official violates the First Amendment by blocking people from their private Facebook page.

At first glance, this seems impossible. SCOTUS has never addressed this, nor has the Tenth Circuit (which includes New Mexico). The two appellate decisions holding that the First Amendment prevents government officials from blocking people on social media--the Second Circuit in Knight Foundation and the Fourth Circuit  in Davison--came in 2019. That is not a "robust consensus" of lower-court of precedent. But the court did not look for such factual specificity. Rather, the rights at issue were to be free from viewpoint discrimination in online spaces used as "metaphysical" public fora and from viewpoint-based retaliation in those public forums.

This stands in sharp contrast to the typical approach. Even outside the absurd cases ("precedent saying it is unlawful to steal drugs during a search does not clearly establish that it is unlawful to steal coins during a search"), courts look for at least some factual similarity beyond general free-speech principles. An official blocking a user from her private page, while leaving that person otherwise free to say whatever he wants wherever he wants, is a far cry from a state banning individuals from all social media.

Perhaps this is how things should be. If qualified immunity must remain, perhaps courts should think about rights more broadly and in a less fact-bound way. But it is out of step with current immunity doctrine, including from the Tenth Circuit, that "viewpoint discrimination" is not a sufficiently specific right.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on March 21, 2021 at 03:11 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Civ Pro: No Coke, Pepsi

Two fun things in recent Civ Pro classes.

First, I taught Scott v. Harris today. For the first time, not one student took the position that the video might support the plaintiff and show that the use of force was unreasonable. Maybe everyone who took that position had her camera and did not feel like doing hand-raise. But I was surprised.

Second,we Discovery last week, with a group argument over Coca-Bottling v. Coca-Cola, a dispute over discoverability of the formula for Coca Cola (what is now Classic) and the discovery and sanctions order coming from that dispute. But then, because I could not resist and believe I should impose my pop-culture preferences on them as much as the other way around:



Posted by Howard Wasserman on March 18, 2021 at 01:48 PM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Teaching Law | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Zombie revivals

Michael Dorf writes about a new Arkansas law that bans all abortions except to save the life of the woman in the case of a medical emergency. Dorf wonders why Arkansas (or any other state) does this rather than attempting to enforce an existing law. He argues it is partly political--current legislators and the current governor want the political trophy of such a law, as opposed to give the attorney general the glory of new enforcement. There also is the problem that Arkansas or another state may be under an injunction not to enforce the existing laws, so the new law is necessary to create a new enforcement opportunity. Alternatively, the AG would have to ask the district court to lift the injunction, which may be difficult when done in anticipation of SCOTUS overruling precedent.

Some good thoughts here that I want to incorporate into my Zombie Laws paper.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on March 11, 2021 at 04:11 PM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Twiqbal and voting

I  doubt I am in the first person to draw this connection, but here goes:

The political group(s) pushing to restrict voting rights are the same group(s) who seek to restrict access to courts and to civil justice. The real reasons for restricting access are the same--the people they want to win will not win if there is broad access (Republican candidates v. governments/businesses/persons who engage in certain types of wrongdoing). But they cannot acknowledge those real reasons. So they create evidence-free arguments equating expanded access with abuse of the system (massive voter fraud  producing an incorrect, inaccurate winner v. frivolous litigation with burdensome and disproportionate discovery hurting innocent companies and producing coerced or inaccurate judgments).

Posted by Howard Wasserman on March 11, 2021 at 08:58 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, March 09, 2021

Cascading Fed Courts issues

I have not given enough thought to how one SCOTUS decision on one issue produces a cascade of other issues. Janus provides a nice case in point.

SCOTUS held that mandatory non-member agency fees violate the First Amendment. That triggered a wave of actions against unions by non-members to recoup fees paid prior to Janus, which courts of appeals have uniformly and all-but-unanimously rejected via a defense of good-faith immunity (the Fourth Circuit joined the chorus yesterday).

The Seventh Circuit on Monday considered a different downstream effect: A union sued the state attorney general challenging state law requiring unions to represent free-riders, claiming that mandatory representation violates the union's First Amendment rights against compelled expression and association. The court of appeals held that the union lacked standing.* No freeriding nonmember had grieved the union for failing to represent it. The attorney general (the defendant in the action) had not initiated or threatened an action against the union for unfair (or non-) representation. And the union had not alleged an intent to not represent freeriders to set-up a pre-enforcement challenge. So while the court acknowledged the issue was unavoidable post-Janus and would eventually require resolution, there was no live case or controversy teed up.

[*] While acknowledging that it also could have been unripe. But wouldn't it all be so much easier to say that nothing had (yet) caused a violation of the union's constitutional rights?

That leads to a further downstream effect: If a freerider files a grievance or the state brings a failure-to-represent action, would a federal court abstain under Younger from the union's action? It may depend on the state laws and procedures governing state labor proceedings. I think abstention would be required in the AG action, because the action sounds comparable to an attorney-grievance proceeding. The freerider grievance may be a bit more open after Sprint, since the state would not be a party.

This is far from played out, as the Seventh Circuit recognized. I wonder if the Janus majority anticipated this three years ago.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on March 9, 2021 at 10:57 AM in Civil Procedure, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, March 08, 2021

Nominal damages, past injury, and a morass to come

SCOTUS decided Uzuegbunam v. Preczewski Monday, holding 8-1 (Thomas for the Court, Roberts dissenting) that nominal damages are a retrospective remedy and plaintiffs can pursue them as the sole remedy for a past constitutional violation. The decision allows plaintiffs to vindicate rights (e.g., the right to protest in a time, place, and manner to which the plaintiff was entitled) that are easily violated but rarely, if ever, worth a lot of money. It also strips government of the power to moot cases after they have begun by repealing the challenged policies, at least where the plaintiff can show an injury from when the policy was in effect.

But the decision leaves many issues open and to be resolved by lower courts going forward.

One is how prevalent this practice will become. Will every plaintiff challenging the validity of a policy include a nominal-damages claim to guard against the government mooting the case? And how will this affect the willingness of courts to say the prospective claim is moot if there is a retroactive claim keeping the case alive? Courts are all over the map on when the repeal of an executive or department policy moots a case and when it is the sort of voluntary cessation that does not moot the case. On one hand, a court may hold the prospective claim not moot, since the nominal-damages claim will keep the case in court. On the other, it may be happy to dump the prospective claim and focus on a small-money claim for a likely de minimis past injury.

Second is how this affects attorney's fees, which was the hidden import of this case. A plaintiff who recovers nominal damages is a prevailing plaintiff entitled to fees under § 1988. Had this case come out the other way, it would have upped the incentive for government to repeal challenged policies, mooting the case and immunizing itself from fees.

But even if fees are available, the amount of recovery may be limited where the plaintiff only receives nominal damages after seeking more--when a plaintiff recovers nominal damages but nothing else, the reasonable fee may be "nothing." Courts might narrow the degree to which the plaintiff prevails, and the amount of fees she recovers, where the government repeals the challenged policy; the plaintiff prevails "only" on the past violation and can recover only for that legal work. An increase in nominal-damages actions may produce a drawback in the amount of fees courts are willing to award.

Third, Jim Pfander proposes that Congress should amend § 1983 to allow plaintiffs to bring claims seeking nominal damages--foregoing compensatory, punitive, and other substantial damages in exchange for the defendant being unable to assert qualified immunity. On one hand, this case treats nominal damages as a remedy consistent with Article III and thus within Congress' power to enact by statute. But the logic of Pfander's proposal is that nominal damages function like an injunction or declaratory judgment, neither of which is subject to qualified immunity. But today's decision paints nominal damages as s a retrospective remedy. Of course, the policy concern for an officer paying out of his own pocket disappears if he only will pay $ 1. But the validity of the proposal turns on that policy, not on the analogy between injunctions and nominal damages.

Fourth, the case illustrates the Court ongoing use of Article III to constitutionalize all sorts of merits questions. The majority talks about the need to show standing and a cognizable cause of action, assuming they are obviously distinct and never recognizing their unavoidable overlap. The Justices continue to make Article III and justiciability as a vehicle to discuss what injuries plaintiffs can recover for and what remedies they can get for those injuries, which should be core merits issues.

Roberts' dissent is worse. He argues (adopting the position of the United States and echoing his dissent in Campbell-Ewald) that a defendant can moot a nominal-damages case by depositing $ 1, avoiding a resolution on the merits. But an action for past injury (as the majority characterizes a claim for nominal damages) never becomes moot. Unlike an ongoing injury that ends when the policy causing injury is repealed, the past injury occurred and does not disappear with payment of money. The payment remedies the injury, putting the plaintiff where she would have been had the past violation of her rights not occurred. But the injury does not disappear and it does not become moot. Unfortunately, Kavanaugh wrote a one-paragraph concurrence to agree with that point in Roberts' dissent, meaning two members of the Court for that absurd position.

Finally, whether characterized as merits or mootness, the question remains whether government can do what the U.S. and Roberts/Kavanaugh would allow: Render the claims recognized in this case meaningless by depositing that $ 1 and demanding the government enter judgment, even if the plaintiff would rather not accept the settlement.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on March 8, 2021 at 01:53 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (5)

Thursday, March 04, 2021

Whither Ford?

Alabama Law Review will host a virtual symposium, Ten Years of the Supreme Court's Personal Jurisdiction Revival, 9 a.m.-3:30 p.m. CST tomorrow. Registration here.

The timing of the symposium makes it worth noting that the Supreme Court has not decided the Ford personal jurisdiction cases, which were briefed last spring and argued on October 7. The Court has not announced its next opinion day and the new sitting does not begin until March 22. So it will be 5 1/2 months, at least, from argument to opinion. It must mean the Court is going to do some very unfortunate things to personal-jurisdiction doctrine or some minority of the Court is drafting dissents to complain that the Court did not do something unfortunate to personal-jurisdiction doctrine. Either way, I am surprised it has taken so long.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on March 4, 2021 at 04:46 PM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (2)

Twiqbal meets the Kraken and Gondor

The Kraken and other pro-Trump/pro-Republican lawsuits about massive election fraud are fictitious nonsense brought by terrible lawyers. The litigation efforts, and the lawyers who brought them, have been justly ridiculed, But I am curious about one point of criticism--that the plaintiffs failed to offer proof of this massive fraud and the pleadings have been absurd because they included allegations of wrongdoing without proof. The same critics distinguished the leaky press conferences and Holiday Inn legislative "hearings" from courts, where the latter have rules governing proof.

Under notice pleading, however, the plaintiff is not required to plead its evidence or to offer proof of its allegations; the idea is to plead skeletal facts showing wrongdoing and leave it to discovery to find evidence behind allegations. Twiqbal requires more than that, of course. But even Twiqbal does not require a plaintiff to identify the evidence supporting its allegations, only that those allegations be more detailed. In any event, many people criticizing the Kraken pleadings decry Twiqbal for ratcheting up what plaintiffs must do to get into court and proceed to discovery.

Part of the issue is that the plaintiffs not only filed complaints, they sought immediate preliminary injunctive relief, which does require evidence beyond the allegations. something the plaintiffs were unable to provide. That made the motion, which must be supported by proof, more salient than the complaint which does not. Still, responding to a ridiculous complaint by demanding proof seems to ignore how federal litigation begins and the idea that the demand for proof comes later--discovery, summary judgment, and trial. And demanding that Gondor and the Kraken have proof at the outset, when we criticize the courts for demanding the same from a typical civil rights plaintiff, seems disingenuous.

Again, I am not saying these cases should have succeeded. Plaintiffs did need evidence for preliminary relief and did not provide it. But the framing outside the courts seems wrong.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on March 4, 2021 at 08:52 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (6)

Monday, March 01, 2021

Forum-Defendant Rule, Mischief Rule, and Snap Removal

My essay, The Forum-Defendant Rule, the Mischief Rule, and Snap Removal, has been published in Wm. & Mary Law Review Online. It uses Sam Bray's reconfiguration of the mischief rule to provide a textualist solution to snap removal, without having to resort to purposivism or needing new congressional action.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on March 1, 2021 at 10:46 AM in Article Spotlight, Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (1)

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Universality and the CDC eviction moratorium (Updated)

Judge Barker issued a declaratory judgment in Terkel v. CDC, declaring the extension of the CDC's eviction moratorium constitutionally invalid. This creates a split with district courts in Georgia and Louisiana, as Ilya Somin describes. But the Terkel court did not issue an injunction, accepting the government's representations that they would "respect" the DJ; it added that the plaintiffs could "seek an injunction should defendants threaten to depart from the declaratory judgment."

As with all of this, the question becomes scope and what the government can do now. The plaintiffs are one individual and five property-management companies, in an action not certified as a class action. Saying the CDC would “respect” and not "depart" from the DJ should mean respect it as to the parties and that it "departs" it only by attempting to enforce against the plaintiffs, which it is unlikely to do. It should not stop the CDC from enforcing the policy against anyone else, certainly outside of Texas, who lacks the protection of a judgment.

The risk for the CDC in enforcing is that Judge Barker will get mad, issue an injunction, and make it universal. This would be wrong on several levels, beyond the usual normative incorrectness of universality. It would be incoherent for the judge to issue a universal injunction in furtherance of a party-particularized DJ.

Even if universal injunctions are appropriate in some cases, this would not seem to be such a case. This is not the DAPA/DACA cases, in which Texas was worried that non-enforcement outside of Texas causing undocumented persons to migrate into the state looking for driver’s licenses. It is not the sanctuary-city cases, in which allowing enforcement as to non-party jurisdictions injured them by shrinking the pool of available funds. It is not an immigration case, in which there is a perceived command that immigration law be uniform. The only conceivable argument for universality requires every injunction to be universal--the CDC policy is categorical and applies to all landlords who may want to evict people. Unfortunately, that is the argument I would expect Judge Barker to accept.

This case exemplifies when universality is inappropriate. Injunctions must provide the plaintiffs complete relief. These plaintiffs get that if they are protected against enforcement. The enforcement or non-enforcement of the CDC policy against anyone other than these managers does not affect the enforcement or non-enforcement of the policy against these plaintiffs.

Update: DOJ filed a response to a notice of supplemental authority on Terkel in the District of the District of Columbia, arguing, in part, that the Terkel judgment does not extend beyond those plaintiffs and does not prohibit enforcement of the policy against others, including the plaintiffs in the D.C. case (which includes the Alabama Association of Realtors). (H/T: Josh Blackman).

Second Update: DOJ announced an appeal in Terkel with a press release stating: "The decision, however, does not extend beyond the particular plaintiffs in that case, and it does not prohibit the application of the CDC’s eviction moratorium to other parties. For other landlords who rent to covered persons, the CDC’s eviction moratorium remains in effect."

The Court avoided universality in cases challenging Trump Administration policies, because the majority declared the ban valid in the cases in which universality was most central, notably the travel ban. Justices Thomas and Gorsuch have been unequivocal that the judgment in a case cannot extend beyond the parties. It will be interesting to see what they do with a Biden Administration policy that offends their pre-New Deal constitutional sensibilities.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on February 27, 2021 at 05:24 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Jurisdiction and Merits in the FTCA

SCOTUS unanimously held Thursday that the Federal Tort Claims Act's Judgment Bar applies where the district court dismisses an FTCA claim for lack of jurisdiction based on a determination that the complaint fails to plausibly allege elements of an FTCA claim. While the Court acknowledges that failure to state a claim ordinarily does not deprive the court of jurisdiction, the FTCA is unique. As a waiver of sovereign immunity, all elements of a meritorious claim are jurisdictional.

Descriptively, I think this is right, given the text of the FTCA, But it is bad news from my everlasting project of sharply separating jurisdiction and merits and not letting Congress make the former relate in any way to the latter. It also is bad news for my position that sovereign immunity should not be deemed jurisdictional--the suability of a defendant goes to the "who can be sued" prong of the merits, not jurisdiction. Another area to cover (along with standing) if I ever write this piece.

Justice Sotomayor concurred to address an issue briefed but not used in the decision--whether the judgment bar should apply in a case (such as this one) in which the plaintiff brings FTCA and individual claims in one action. Sotomayor suggests (rightly, I think) that the bar should not apply in those cases because claim preclusion would not apply there. It would be odd for a decision in one claim within a single action to have a preclusive effect on other claims in the same action.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on February 25, 2021 at 06:19 PM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (2)

Thursday, February 18, 2021

JOTWELL: Mulligan on Main on snap removal

The new Courts Law essay comes from Lumen Mulligan (Kansas), reviewing Thomas O. Main, Jeffrey W. Stempel, & David McClure, The Elastics of Snap Removal: An Empirical Case Study of Textualism (Aug. 17, 2020), which studies the demographics of the judges who follow the textualist approach to snap removal (allowing removal prior to service of a forum defendant, in the face of clear legislative intent). I considered snap removal in a prior JOTWELL essay and expand on that argument in a forthcoming essay; Main's article and a companion piece by the same authors were essential to the research.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on February 18, 2021 at 01:26 PM in Article Spotlight, Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, February 07, 2021

Shotgun pleadings and the (continued) death of FRCP 12(e)

The creation of "factual insufficiency" under FRCP 8(a)(2) and 12(b)(6) dismissals without prejudice--informally pre-Twiqbal and formally since--made FRCP 12(e) motions for more definite statement into a relic. If the complaint lacked sufficient facts or details, a defendant would move to dismiss for failure to state a claim rather than for a more definite statement. The result is the same--the plaintiff gets another chance to plead--and courts and defendants followed the 12(b)(6) route.

So 12(e) evolved in the other direction, as a tool against prolix complaints--100+ pages, 750+ allegations (often containing irrelevant and inflammatory information), 25+ claims against a random host of defendants, with no clarity about who did what or what conduct violated what rights. Such a complaint fits Rule 12(e)--the massive amount of disorganized information renders the pleading "so vague or ambiguous that the party cannot reasonably prepare a response." Defendants (and courts) should not be required to excavate the rubble of the pleading to figure out what is going on and how to respond.

The Eleventh Circuit has gone a different route. It introduced the doctrine of "shotgun pleadings." It recently described four types of shotgun pleadings (or, probably more accurately, four characteristics, since I imagine they can combine): 1) a complaint with multiple counts in which each count incorporates every prior paragraph, including the paragraphs in the prior counts; 2) a complaint "replete with conclusory, vague, and immaterial facts not obviously connected to any particular cause of action;" 3) a complaint that does not separate causes of action into distinct counts; and 4) pleadings with multiple claims against multiple defendants that does not specify who did what or who each claim is brought against. All solid categories. But under the Eleventh Circuit's doctrine, the appropriate tool is a 12(b)(6), not 12(e). More importantly is the consequence: Where a plaintiff represented by counsel has a complaint dismissed as shotgun and fails to request leave to amend, the district court must give one chance to replead. Subsequent shotgun pleadings can be dismissed with prejudice.Using 12(b)(6), and dismissal with prejudice, seems to rest on two ideas. First, if the plaintiff had a valid claim, she would not have filed a shotgun pleading; that she believed it necessary to lard the complaint with extraneous material shows she could not identify facts showing a violation. Second, there is something that looks like a sanction here, especially where plaintiff is counseled. Shotgun pleadings "waste judicial resources waste scarce judicial resources, inexorably broaden the scope of discovery, wreak havoc on appellate court dockets, and undermine the public’s respect for the courts."Meanwhile, the doctrine leaves even less for 12(e) to do.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on February 7, 2021 at 10:11 AM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 04, 2021

JOTWELL: Bookman on King on global civil procedure

The new Courts Law essay comes from Pamela Bookman (Fordham), reviiewing Alyssa King, Global Civil Procedure (Harv. J. Int'l L., forthcoming).

Posted by Howard Wasserman on February 4, 2021 at 01:40 PM in Article Spotlight, Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, January 29, 2021

Circuit split on public officials' Twitter accounts

A divided Eighth Circuit held that a state legislator did not act under color in blocking people from her Twitter account. She started the account as a candidate and used it primarily for tweets supporting her reelection and explaining why she is the right person for the office, including tweets criticizing her opponent for not placing her hand over her heart during the Pledge of Allegiance. That some tweets promoted her legislative achievements did not overcome the candidate focus, even if speaking with constituents can qualify as action under color. Judge Kelly dissented.

The question of how to treat "public communication" may prove a pivotal issue on these questions of social media and state action. All elected officials communicate with the public and promote their official work with an eye towards reelection and showing why their official work makes them the "right person for the job." But they also communicate with the public and promote their official work because they represent the public and are expected to notify the public of what is being done on their behalf. And so they want the public to keep them in office because they are doing so well on their behalf. I do not see how to draw a sharp line between candidate and official, especially for legislators, especially as the system involves into a perpetual campaign.

I also wonder why the case is not moot, as is Knight v. Trump. The legislator deleted her Twitter account in 2019. So a claim for an injunction seeking to be allowed onto the legislator's Twitter site is not alive if that Twitter site no longer exists. The opinion does not say if the plaintiff sought damages. Or perhaps there is some kind of capable-of-repetition argument--that the official may at some point return to social media. [Update: Or not perhaps not moot because of voluntary cessation--she could reopen her Twitter account at any time].

Posted by Howard Wasserman on January 29, 2021 at 09:03 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (4)

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

JOTWELL: Bartholomew on Lammon on class-action appeals

The new Courts Law essay comes from new contributor Christine Bartholomew (Buffalo), reviewing Bryan Lammon, An Empirical Study of Class-Action Appeals.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on January 27, 2021 at 10:57 AM in Article Spotlight, Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Universal injunctions return to the Fifth Circuit

That did not take long, this time over the new "pause" on deportations. Plus, Judge Tipton did not cite me as among the scholars who have criticized these injunctions or urged different nomenclature. It remains to be seen whether SCOTUS continues to use the shadow docket to show its distaste for universal injunctions as it did during the Trump Administration.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on January 26, 2021 at 03:11 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, January 15, 2021

Facts, epithets, exams, and anti-racism (Amended)

Above the Law reported about a brewing controversy at UIC-John Marshall involving Prof. Jason Kilborn and his Civ Pro exam.

Kilborn included the following short-answer question on his exam:

After she was fired from her job, Plaintiff sued Employer under federal civil rights law, claiming employment discrimination on the basis of her race and gender. [discussion of other evidence omitted]  Employer also revealed that one of Plaintiff’s former managers might have damaging information about the case, but no one at Employer knew where that former manager was, since she had abruptly quit her job at Employer several months ago and had not been heard from since.  With nothing to go on but the manager’s name, Employer’s lawyer pieced together several scraps of information and concluded that this former manager must be located in a remote area of northern Wisconsin.  Employer’s lawyer spent $25,000 to hire a private investigator, who successfully located the former manager in northern Wisconsin.  Employer’s lawyer traveled to meet the manager, who stated that she quit her job at Employer after she attended a meeting in which other managers expressed their anger at Plaintiff, calling her a “n____” and “b____” (profane expressions for African Americans and women) and vowed to get rid of her.

                Later, Plaintiff’s lawyer served [another discovery demand, omitted, and] an interrogatory demanding the identity and location of any person with any information related to the termination of Plaintiff’s employment at Employer or potential discrimination against Plaintiff by Employer or any agent of Employer.

The question asked whether the employer could refuse to disclose the witness's location (while disclosing her name) on grounds of work-product privilege.

The school's BLSA chapter responded with a petition. It calls for, among other things, multiple sections of all mandatory classes (so students can avoid professors such as Kilborn with a "history of bias"), Kilborn's resignation from the academic affairs committee, and an "open dialogue event" with Kilborn. The ATL piece is somewhat sympathetic to Kilborn, surprising, given that site's general rage against professors who use racist language and epithets in class.

Amendment: Kilborn was subject to university sanction--the school placed him on administrative leave, cancelled his new-semester classes and committee assignments, and barred him from campus. There is some uncertainty over the grounds for the university sanction or the process followed; I have deleted comments or speculation from the original post about that process. Regardless, the exam question sparked controversy and triggered a student petition within the school; that raises teaching issues worth thinking about. The post focuses on those.

Please note that I have never met Jason in-person. I know of him from posts to the Civ Pro profs listserv, where he has discussed infusing anti-racism and racial-justice issues into the Civ Pro curriculum. So this is not defending a friend. But I am genuinely curious as to what was wrong with the question. What are the rules, so professors can avoid creating "momentous distraction and cause[ing] unnecessary distress and anxiety" or demonstrating "lack of respect, decency, and civility?"

    • The question did not use explicit and complete epithets, which had been the flashpoint for past controversies over what professors said in class or wrote in materials. ATL has covered those controversies at length, sharply criticizing faculty for mentioning the word. Eugene Volokh and Randall Kennedy present the contrary view, relying on the "use-mention" distinction.

    • Is the rule that bowdlerized reference to epithets is not OK? What if the test had the witness say "n-word," as in "she stated that she quit her job at Employer after she attended a meeting in which other managers expressed their anger at Plaintiff, calling her a n-word and c-word"? Are all references to epithets off-limits?

    • Is it only racist epithets, given the focus on "centering race" in the academic discussion? What if the question used a misogynist epithet or anything other than a racist one? What if this question only had the employer calling the plaintiff a "c____" or a "b____"?

    • If bowdlerized use of the word is not OK, is all reference to racist epithets not ok? What if that last sentence of the facts had the witness state "she quit her job at Employer after she attended a meeting in which other managers expressed their anger at Plaintiff, and referred to her with profane expressions for African Americans and women"? Does the reference to the epithet, even this obliquely, cause the same distress and anxiety? Students will be as aware of the "profane expression for African Americans" being referenced as by saying it with ____ or *** or "n-word."

    • If any reference or hint at epithets is not ok, then does it follow that exam questions touching on racist discrimination are off-limits? What if that last sentence of the exam had said the witness "stated that she quit her job at Employer after she attended a meeting in which other managers expressed their anger at Plaintiff, and talked about how much they hated having to employ African-Americans"? The question reveals discriminatory animus without using the word. Of course, the legal issues might come out differently in that case than in an epithet case. If this is problematic, then it seems to eliminate one major litigation area, or at least certain types of cases in that litigation area, as a testing subject; I discussed this issue several years ago.

    • How much does subject matter? The question tested work-product privilege, so the petition argued that the hint at the epithet served no educational purpose. Would the reaction have been different had the question been asked in, say, Employment Discrimination? For what it is worth, a friend who teaches that subject often tests with a fictional religion with fictional stereotypes and fictional epithets. But does that capture the same idea, given the effects of history? It has been decided that this word is the worst in the English language, so bad it cannot be written or spoken or even mentioned. It follows that its use may affect the outcome of a case in a unique way not captured by a fact patter in which someone calls a member of the Church of the Shiny Rock (my friend's actual example) a "Rockette" (I made that one up).

    • This may create unique problems for Civ Pro (and Fed Courts, Evidence, and Civil Rights--basically my entire teaching package). The course material itself is not "sensitive," compared with Con Law or Immigration or Employment Discrimination. But teaching and testing Civ Pro requires that we adopt and use the substantive issues that reach court and must be litigated under the rules we are teaching and testing on. One could argue that there is always another way to test on work-product privilege--use a slip-and-fall tort claim that will not affect anyone's feelings. But one could respond that discrimination claims comprise a substantial piece of the federal docket and it makes no sense to ignore such common claims. Kilborn told ATL that the class casebook uses a lot of employment cases, so that context pervaded the course and made sense as a testing vehicle. And, as I wrote several years ago, the full range of litigation subjects and issues should be fair game.

    • Kilborn also told ATL that the question was designed to illustrate how civil litigation can be used to help women of color overcome the burdens they face in the workplace. And the egregious nature of what the witness reports the employer saying may be relevant to why the employer was so determined not to reveal the witness and why the plaintiff would have a "substantial need" for the information. In other words, just as the precise nature of discriminatory conduct is important "context" in a substantive E/D class, it may provide essential "context" for procedural questions. Given Kilborn's intent, there is great irony that this question has led to these consequences.

Closer to home, I have been watching the litigation in Stallworth v. Nike, a lawsuit by an African American couple alleging that they were subjected to "shopping while Black" in a Santa Monica Nike store and that the SMPD had an agreement with the area stores to arrest or detain anyone on the word of the stores. The complaint runs 50 pages and 200 paragraphs, although without detailed allegations of how Nike and SMPD worked together to create action. The complaint contains pages and paragraphs about the plaintiffs' personal and professional histories, Nike's role in social justice, and last summer's protests; they want to frame the case--likely for consumption by the public rather than the Court--within the broader anti-racism movement. I considered assigning this as one of my in-class pleadings, as an opportunity to discuss the propriety and effectiveness of pleading-as-press release and to analyze the sufficiency of the state-action allegations. I decided against it--partly because it is a long pleading (the other complaints I use are <20 pages) and partly because I could not predict student reactions. There are no racial epithets, but the case touches a raw topic.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on January 15, 2021 at 05:25 PM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Teaching Law | Permalink | Comments (23)

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Mootness and nominal damages

The Court on Tuesday heard argument in Uzuegbunam v. Preczewski, on whether a case becomes moot if the government repeals the challenged policy but a claim for nominal damages remain. A few thoughts.

• Chief Justice Roberts hammers everyone on justiciability and merits melding into one another. But he wants to find ways to draw magical lines, rather than recognizing that they collapse into one another because they are the same thing.

• Justice Kavanaugh recognizes that the real issue here is attorney's fees. A plaintiff cannot recover attorney's fees if the government moots the case by repealing the challenged policy; the real point of the nominal damages claim is to keep the case alive through a claim for retroactive relief on which the plaintiff can prevail.

• There was no discussion of qualified immunity, which also enters this picture. If the nominal damages claim keeps the case alive, it also is subject to an immunity defense. This helps the government avoid paying $ 1, which avoids attorney's fees.

• The case is a weird vehicle for this issue, because the challenged policy was never enforced against one of the plaintiffs prior to its repeal. The "injury" the plaintiff claims is for the past chilling effect of wanting to speak but not feeling able to for fear of enforcement. Chilling effect can be a basis for standing for prospective relief; it is strange to see it as a past injury.

• There was some confusion among a number of concepts--prospective v. retroactive relief, compensatory v. non-compensatory remedies, claims v. remedies. It seems to me the answer to this case is that a plaintiff can bring a claim for a past injury caused by the policy while the policy was in effect--a retroactive injury seeking a retroactive remedy. Having proved past injury, the question is one of remedy--actual damages (however small) or nominal damages in their stead. Counsel for the government seemed to acknowledge the last pairing, insisting that nominal damages is not a claim but a remedy once that claim has been proven. But that should cut against the government's position.

• The case highlights the problems with Buckhannon, in which the Court rejected the "catalyst theory" of attorney's fees, under which a plaintiff prevails if the lawsuit is the catalyst for the government repealing the challenged policy. A plaintiff does not prevail when the policy change is not reduced to a judgment. At the same time, Buckhannon left this case open--whether a claim for retroactive relief can keep the case, and thus fees, alive.

But counsel for Georgia made this point in his closing:

[T]he way that this case was resolved is a good thing. Litigation prompted college officials to review their policies, and just ten weeks later to revise them in a way that maximizes and respected First Amendment rights on campus, not just for Petitioners but for all students. And it even led to an enduring state-wide policy change for every public college in Georgia. That kind of early out-of-court resolution should be encouraged.

Except such a resolution requires that plaintiffs are able to obtain counsel to bring litigation. This is why Congress provides for fees in civil rights cases--to incentivize counsel to bring these cases. But there will be no such change if individuals are unable to bring litigation because they are unable to get counsel because counsel knows that the "good" solution for the government will be to repeal its policy, preempting fees, and thus will not agree to bring the case.

My best guess is that the Court reverses, at least where the plaintiff has suffered past harm from enforcement. But I am always wrong.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on January 12, 2021 at 08:55 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (3)

Monday, January 11, 2021

Universal universality (Updated)

The Fourth Circuit affirmed a universal injunction (mistakenly styled nationwide) prohibiting enforcement of the federal policy requiring state and local affirmative consent to accept refugees. The injunction protected six non-party resettlement agencies, in addition to the three plaintiffs.

In affirming as to scope, the court relied on Trump v. IRAP (the pre-Hawaii order that stayed various parts of the travel-ban injunctions) for the proposition that "a nationwide injunction may be appropriate when the government relies on a 'categorical policy,' and when the facts would not require different relief for others similarly situated to the plaintiff." This policy "by its nature" affects all immigrants assigned to all agencies operating throughout the country and a particularized injunction would produce "inequitable treatment of refugees and undermine the very national consistency that the Refugee Act is designed to protect."

One problem with the "universality only in certain cases where appropriate" is that any standards for determining when universality is appropriate collapse to allowing it in every case. This captures that. All policies are categorical and all policies by their nature affect all persons subject to those policies. All policies apply the same to similarly situated non-parties--that is what makes them similarly situated and also what would allow them to form a 23(b)(2) class, which the plaintiffs chose not to do here. Moreover, "inequitable treatment" follows in all cases in which a party obtains a non-class injunction--those who obtained the injunction enjoy a legal protection that those who did not obtain the injunction do not enjoy. That is the point and effect of obtaining an injunction.

If that is the standard, every injunction must be universal.

Update: Sam Bray reaches the same conclusion.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on January 11, 2021 at 11:19 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (1)

Saturday, January 09, 2021

Trump, Twitter, mootness, and attorney's fees

Josh Blackman raises a question about the government's cert petition in Trump v. Knight Foundation, holding that the President violated the First Amendment by blocking people on Twitter: Does the ban moot the case and will the Court issue a Munsingwear order vacating and remanding with instructions to vacate the judgment. But Josh's question is, so to speak, moot. The case always was going to become moot at noon on January 20 when Trump left office and any federal action disappeared. It is conceivable the Court waited on the case for that reason--had Trump won reelection, the case would have remained alive for another four years; when he lost, it was a matter of waiting out the extra few months.

A secondary question is whether the plaintiffs will be able to get attorney's fees under the EAJA if and when the judgment is vacated. Courts and cases are all over the map on whether a plaintiff is a prevailing party if it obtains interim relief that is dissolved on mootness grounds on appeal. Courts look to a number of factors, including whether the interim relief changed the defendant's conduct and gave the plaintiff what it asked for while it lasted and the length of time the interim relief was in place. Under that, Knight should be a prevailing party. The district court issued its judgment in May 2018 and the Second Circuit affirmed in 2019, meaning the plaintiffs have gotten what they wanted--being unblocked and able to read the President's tweets--for more than two years. More importantly, the plaintiff's desire and constitutional entitlement to continue doing so was always time-limited, ending whenever Trump's term ended (January 20 2025, at the latest). That sounds like a meaningful change in the relationship between the parties for the precise period the plaintiffs wanted.

Also relevant is that the district court granted declaratory, but not injunctive, relief against Trump (the aide who run his Twitter account was enjoined). Courts are again mixed as to whether a declaratory judgment alone is sufficient to make a plaintiff a prevailing party, especially where other relief is denied. Here, it should be relevant that a DJ is the only remedy the plaintiff could get from Trump, since courts will not, and perhaps cannot, enjoin the President (as opposed to All the President's Men).

Posted by Howard Wasserman on January 9, 2021 at 06:05 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sanctions, disbarment, and sedition

There was discussion prior to Wednesday about sanctions or bar consequences for the attorneys who brought the nonsense election challenges. Even if Trump and his lackeys did not commit incitement on Wednesday, there was a steady stream of statements about election fraud, stolen elections, and official malfeasance, including in court documents and in press conferences and quasi-hearings related to those lawsuits. Given potential  evidence they were part of a coordinated effort that caused, even if unintended, Wednesday's events, might that affect how courts judge sanction requests, how willing courts are to raise sanctions sua sponte, and how state bars judge disciplinary actions?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on January 9, 2021 at 11:11 AM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (2)

Wednesday, January 06, 2021

JOTWELL: Mullenix on Russell on frivolous defenses

The new Courts Law essay comes from Linda Mullenix (Texas), reviewing Thomas D. Russell, Frivolous Defenses, which focuses on tort defendants' non-compliance with the rules governing responsive pleadings. I spend time in Civ Pro on this subject, especially the way that defendants refuse to respond to allegations (common response: "Neither admit nor deny and strict proof demanded thereof," which is nonsense) and the refusal of any judge other than Milton ShadurZ"L of the ND Ill. to hold attorneys to account for these practices.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on January 6, 2021 at 09:41 AM in Article Spotlight, Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (3)

More movie stars and diversity jurisdiction

Elizabeth Taylor has company in the Civ Pro canon. The S.D.N.Y. denied a motion to remand in Rapp v. Fowler, an action for sexual assault against Kevin Spacey. (H/T: Volokh Conspiracy). The victims filed the action in New York state court. Spacey removed, alleging he is a Maryland citizen. The plaintiffs moved to remand, arguing that Spacey is domiciled in the U.K., making him stateless and not subject to suit on diversity. The court denied the motion, for now, because the only evidence of Spacey's intent was a declaration from Spacey that he intends to return to Maryland; the contrary evidence was a declaration from the plaintiffs' attorney, who lacks personal knowledge. The court allowed the parties to take jurisdictional discovery and for the plaintiffs to perhaps renew the motion.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on January 6, 2021 at 09:31 AM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (7)

Monday, January 04, 2021

Court smacks down dumbest election lawsuit and its lawyers

The dumbest election lawsuit was the one in the District of D.C. against Pence, the Electoral College, Congress, and a bunch of state officials, alleging that Article II requires that a state legislature certify the results post-election so any electors appointed without that certification (i.e., all 538) were invalid and could not cast lawful votes. District Judge Boasberg initially gave the plaintiffs busywork of providing proof of service on all defendants, including the Electoral College (which, of course, is not a thing that can be sued). When no such service occurred after twelve days, the court declined to wait any longer and denied the motion for preliminary injunction.

And Boasberg was not messing around. The suit would have been "risible were its target not so grave: the undermining of a democratic electionfor President of the United States." Plaintiffs’ "theory that all of these laws are unconstitutional and that the Court should instead require state legislatures themselves to certify every Presidential election lies somewhere between a willful misreading of the Constitution and fantasy." And this is the closer:

Yet even that may be letting Plaintiffs off the hook too lightly. Their failure to make any effort to serve or formally notify any Defendanteven after reminder by the Court in its Minute Orderrenders it difficult to believe that the suit is meant seriously. Courts are not instruments through which parties engagei n such gamesmanship or symbolic political gestures.As a result, at the conclusion of this litigation, the Court will determine whether to issue an order to show cause why this matter should not be referred to its Committee on Grievances for potential discipline of Plaintiffs’ counsel.

Many have noted the absence of sanctions in these cases, despite all being patently sanctionable. One reason may be the details of FRCP 11 and the incentives of parties and courts. Rule 11(c) imposes a safe harbor--before seeking sanctions, a party must notify the opposing party of its intent to seek sanctions (by serving, without filing, a copy of the proposed motion for sanctions) and give the party 21 days to cure the sanctionable conduct, as by withdrawing or amending the challenged paper. But the defendants in these cases want these cases to go away, not to drag the cases out by giving the plaintiffs time to cure. And most courts have held that the safe harbor means that sanctions cannot be sought after dismissal, so post-dismissal sanctions are not possible. Meanwhile, judges have the same interest as defendants in making these cases go away and no desire to keep them around with additional rounds of satellite litigation.

This was was unique in several respects, so it makes sense that it might trigger sanctions activity. Because plaintiffs never bothered serving anyone, the case never reached an adversarial posture; the judge was on his own own. And the theory and construction of the case was uniquely loony. That combination raised the suspicion, more than the other Kraken cases, that this was a political show and nothing more.

One more thing, because it is something I expect to see in the coming months. The plaintiffs alleged that they had been "disenfranchised," which Boasberg said was not true since they had voted and their votes counted. But "disenfranchisement" means something different in the minds of these groups of voters and advocates. The "franchise" means not that I was able to vote or that my vote was counted, but that I was able to elect the candidate of my choosing; I am disenfranchised if my candidate loses. This framing is not new. Many of the early Tea Party rallies in 2009 and 2010 were covered as complaints of disenfranchisement--the protesters were disenfranchised because the person they did not vote for had one and he was pursuing policies they did not favor. That is certainly grounds for protest; it is not disenfranchisement and should not be accepted as such.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on January 4, 2021 at 03:20 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (10)

Saturday, January 02, 2021

Where are they now: Tolan v. Cotton

The Washington Post on Friday ran a story on Robbie Tolan, a baseball player who was the victim of a 2008 police shooting in Texas that ended his potential career. His lawsuit was the subject of Tolan v. Cotton (2014), the rare case in which the Court reversed the grant of summary judgment on qualified immunity, when the lower court defined the context of the right despite factual disputes. I wrote about the case. Following remand, Tolan settled for $ 110,000; the newspaper story describes how he has gotten on with his life twelve years later. (H/T: Jonah Gelbach).

Posted by Howard Wasserman on January 2, 2021 at 07:10 PM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Third-party universality

A judge in the Northern District of California has universally enjoined the President's Executive Order on diversity training. Plaintiffs are several non-profit LGBT education and advocacy organizations that do trainings and education programs for local businesses, governments, and health-care providers. These programs cover systemic bias, anti-racism, white supremacy, and other issues the EO attempts to stop. The court held that the EO violates the First Amendment.

The court made the injunction universal/nationwide, based on third-party effects. "Permitting Plaintiffs to provide training regarding “divisive concepts,or to promote those concepts,would do Plaintiffs little good if their sources of employment and funding remain subject to the Executive Order." Pointing to evidence of third-party cancellation of programs in which the plaintiffs were scheduled to participate, "[i]njunctive relief is necessary to allow third parties to hire and/or fund Plaintiffs without fear of violating the Executive Order."

Third-party effects can expand the scope of a particularized injunction, in the sense of protecting those with whom the protected plaintiff engages in its protected capacity. For example, the injunction stopping enforcement of the Muslim travel ban as to the University of Hawaii protected actual and potential students; the injunction stopping enforcement as to HIAS protected actual and potential HIAS clients. Similarly, the court is correct that protecting these plaintiffs requires protecting those who do business with them.

But it did not follow that the injunction stopping the travel ban should protect other state universities, other immigration organizations, or other potential immigrants who have nothing to do with those plaintiffs. Similarly, it does not follow that this injunction must protect other training providers who have nothing to do with these plaintiffs or other entities who do not and would never do business with the plaintiffs. Giving relief to other grantees/contractors, who have nothing to do with the plaintiffs, is not necessary to give the plaintiffs complete relief.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 24, 2020 at 01:04 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, December 18, 2020

Godwin's Law of Standing

An intentionally provocative framing of Friday's standing decision: A mayor (to keep the numbers small) issues a memorandum ordering department heads to identify, "to the extent practicable or feasible," all Jewish municipal employees so they may be excluded from receiving annual raises. Jewish employees must be identified by December 31, the date on which annual raises are triggered.

Could it really be that a Jewish employee does not have standing to challenge that memorandum prior to being identified and denied a raise? That each employee must wait until he is denied the raise, then sue?

And if not, how is this different than the census case? Is it numbers--there are more undocumented immigrants in the United States than Jews working in my hypothetical municipality, so it is more likely that all Jews can be identified? Is it the certainty of harm--no raise as opposed to maybe a loss of money or seats?

I should add I know there is no logic or consistency in standing analysis. But it is worth thinking about.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 18, 2020 at 11:56 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (6)

Malevolence + Incompetence = No Standing

That is the gist of the Per curiam decision dismissing the challenge to exclusion of undocumented persons from the census for lack standing/ripeness (at this point they are the same and we should stop treating them as distinct). Government agencies are struggling to identify undocumented persons and exclude them from the count--in other words, struggling to implement the presidential memorandum--by the December 31 deadline. This creates "contingencies" and "speculation" as to the extent of the harm (how many millions of people will be identified and affected) that "impedes judicial review."

Breyer dissented for Sotomayor and Kagan. Money quotation:

To repeat, the President’s stated goal is to reduce the number of Representatives apportioned to the States that are home to a disproportionate number of aliens without lawful status. The Government has confirmed that it can identify millions of these people through administrative records. But if the Census Bureau fails to fulfill its man-date to exclude aliens without lawful status and reduce the number of Representatives to which certain States are en-titled, it will be for reasons not in the record. Where, as here, the Government acknowledges it is working to achieve an allegedly illegal goal, this Court should not de-cline to resolve the case simply because the Government speculates that it might not fully succeed.

Otherwise, we have a new principle: Plaintiffs lack standing if government is too incompetent to get its shit together and commit the violation it intends, as a matter of announced formal policy, to commit.

Oh, and I forgot to add: I presume folks in the Trump Administration now believe standing requirements are great and necessary constitutional bulwarks and not technicalities and dodges wielded by fearful Justices.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 18, 2020 at 10:30 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (4)

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Departmentalism and the First Amendment

Last month I speculated that government officials might enact laws they know will not survive judicial review but that make good political and constitutional statements.

Case in point is the bill that New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed Wednesday. The bill prohibits the state from selling or displaying "symbols of hate," defined to "include, but not be limited to, symbols of white supremacy, neo-Nazi 10 ideology or the Battle Flag of the Confederacy." And it calls for the enactment of measures to prohibit the sale of symbols of hate on the grounds of the state fair or other fairs receiving public funds. The first clause is fine, although largely symbolic (not sure how many New York office buildings are flying swastikas). The second is almost certain to be declared invalid if challenged in court; the prohibition is a viewpoint-discriminatory restriction on speech that will occur in a limited public forum.

Cuomo acknowledged that constitutional questions surround the bill and promised to work with the legislature on "technical changes" to correct potential constitutional problems, although I am not sure what small change will save the fairgrounds portion. Eugene Volokh points out that the law likely cannot be challenged at this point because it does not ban anything; it orders a state agency to enact regulations. Perhaps this is why Cuomo believes there is an opportunity for changes that avoid constitutional problems.

Cuomo explained his reason for signing despite the constitutional questions:

This country faces a pervasive, growing attitude of intolerance and hate — what I have referred to in the body politic as an American cancer,” Cuomo wrote in his approval message.

“By limiting the display and sale of the confederate flag, Nazi swastika and other symbols of hatred from being displayed or sold on state property, including the state fairgrounds, this will help safeguard New Yorkers from the fear-installing effects of these abhorrent symbols.”

So did Cuomo act in an "unconstitutional manner" or violate his constitutional oath? It depends on whether he believes the law is valid, apart from what courts might conclude. And the concerns Cuomo describes--intolerance and hate is a problem--can be part of the legislative and executive calculus. He seems to be trying to thread a needle here--signing a broad law for show, then attempting to dial it back to address constitutional concerns. But in a broad departmentalist sense, what he did is fine.

Is there a difference between what Cuomo and New York did here and what other states have done with strict abortion bans? None of these laws will survive judicial review under current jurisprudence. One difference is that the abortion bans are designed to create litigation with the hope/expectation that a different SCOTUS majority will change its constitutional interpretation and render the laws valid. I doubt Cuomo expects SCOTUS to change its views on hate speech, viewpoint discrimination, or public forums. Should that matter to how we evaluate a departmentalist executive?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 17, 2020 at 09:31 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (2)

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Universality and the facial/as-applied distinction

An aspect of universality about which I have not written is its intertwinement with the distinction between facial and as-applied challenges to the laws.

Normatively, it should not matter. Dick Fallon has it right in arguing that facial/as-applied relates to the scope of the precedent rather than the scope of the judgment. A facial challenge produces precedent pre-determining the validity of the law as to non-parties and future cases, which future courts will apply as firmer precedent in resolving the second lawsuit. But any injunction in that first lawsuit remains limited to prohibiting enforcement only against the plaintiff. Descriptively, however, suggestions that a challenge to a law is facial bleeds into questions of who will be protected by the resulting judgment.

Case in point is Tuesday's First Circuit decision on a First Amendment challenge to Massachusett's ban on surreptitious recording, even of government officials performing public functions in public. In consolidated cases, the panel* the panel found one challenge ripe (Martin) and affirmed a declaratory judgment prohibiting enforcement as to recording of police in public spaces, while finding a second challenge (Project Veritas) not ripe as applied to recordings of all public employees and other individuals lacking expectations of privacy.

[*] The panel was David Barron, an Obama and potential Biden short-lister, who wrote the opinion; Justice Souter riding circuit; and Bruce Selya of the large vocabulary. Interesting note on seniority on the panel, which goes: Active Circuit, Retired SCOTUS, Senior Circuit

There was preliminary wrangling over whether Martin was facial or as-applied. Here is how Judge Barron resolved the back-and-forth:

This battle over labels is not fruitful. The Martin Plaintiffs' challenge takes aim at only a portion of Section 99, but it seeks to block it in circumstances beyond the Martin Plaintiffs' own recording. The challenge thus has both "as-applied" and "facial" characteristics. There is no obvious sense in which one predominates.

Fortunately, the Supreme Court has confronted similar half-fish, half-fowl First Amendment challenges and instructed that where the challengers "do[] not seek to strike [a statute] in all its applications" but the relief sought "reach[es] beyond the particular circumstances of [the] plaintiffs," they must "satisfy [the] standards for a facial challenge to the extent of that reach." John Doe No. 1 v. Reed, 561 U.S. 186, 194 (2010) (emphasis added); see also Showtime Ent., LLC v. Town of Mendon, 769 F.3d 61, 70 (1st Cir. 2014). We thus proceed on the understanding that the Martin Plaintiffs seek the invalidation -- facially -- of Section 99 but only insofar as it applies to bar the secret, nonconsensual audio recording of police officers discharging their official duties in public spaces.

We emphasize, though, that the Martin Plaintiffs contend that Section 99 is unconstitutional as applied to their own recording. In that respect, they are not bringing a First Amendment overbreadth challenge. Nor are they seeking, however, to invalidate the measure only insofar as it applies to their own conduct. They are bringing a challenge to a portion of Section 99 that they contend cannot be applied to bar such recording, whether undertaken by them or by anyone else, because it is not tailored in the way that they contend the First Amendment requires.

With the Martin Plaintiffs' challenge now better in view, we are well positioned to explain why we conclude that it is ripe.

The court addressed this it affected ripeness. But note how scope-of-remedy bleeds into the analysis. Twice the court describes the plaintiffs as attempting to stop recording "beyond [their] own recording" and "whether undertaken by them or by anyone else." But  a party cannot, as a matter of the judgment and absent class certification, stop enforcement of the law as to anyone else or anyone else's conduct. Speaking in these terms creates that remedial confusion, even where, as here, only a declaratory judgment and not an injunction is sought.

Other than this remedial quibble, this is another great addition to the burgeoning body of law establishing a First Amendment right to record.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 16, 2020 at 10:07 AM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Not a technicality, still a distraction (Updated)

Standing is the word of the weekend, as the lame-duck President took to Fox to decry the reliance on "little technicalities, like a thing called standing," before expressing shock and awe that "the President of the United States does not have standing."

I prohibit my students from using the word "technicality" in class or in their work. Another word for technicality, I tell them, is "the law." It is not a technicality when evidence is excluded because police executed an unlawful search, because there are laws prohibiting police from doing that and those laws are no less important than the law prohibiting some action as a crime. And it is not a technicality when a court dismisses (or refuses to hear) case because it lacks the authority to hear it (as standing is understood), because the laws limiting the court's adjudicative authority is as important as the Electors Clause.

Update: Trump later tried his hand at textualism, insisting that SCOTUS' original jurisdiction is enumerated in the Constitution. But so is standing (descriptively derived as it is from the "case or controversy" language), in the prior clause of the same section of the same article.

Trump's complaint also ignores that one court found standing before rejecting all the merits arguments. The court's standing analysis is debatable. I agree that Trump was injured and that an injunction prohibiting certification would remedy that injury (subject to whatever happens next under state law). But any standing here would have been Third Party standing--Trump asserting the rights of the Wisconsin legislature to set election rules. The court either needed to find the other elements of third-party standing (close connection between Trump and the real right-holder and some barrier to the right-holder asserting its rights) or conclude that, as in Bond v. U.S., a party with standing can assert any alleged constitutional defect in a law.

All that said, I continue to believe that standing is jurisdictionalized merits. What courts have made a jurisdictional threshold is a merits determination: "Your constitutional/statutory rights have not been violated in this case because the law does not recognize those rights, so you lose on the merits." That is what standing measures--"perhaps the Constitution or law was violated in some way, but it did not affect you so you cannot be the one to pursue the claim and obtain a judicial remedy." Would we be better off if courts spoke about it in those terms, rather than as a threshold that can be waved away by non-lawyers as a technicality?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 13, 2020 at 01:02 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (9)

Friday, December 11, 2020

JOTWELL: Carroll on Martinez on judges behaving badly

The new Courts Law essay comes from new contributor Maureen Carroll (Michigan), reviewing Veronica Root Martinez, Avoiding Judicial Discipline, 115 Nw. U. L. Rev. 223 (2020), considering how to create mechanisms for holding judges accountable for misconduct when they no longer are on that court.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 11, 2020 at 11:04 AM in Article Spotlight, Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (2)

Thursday, December 10, 2020

New Fed Courts cases from SCOTUS (Updated)

As the Court wrestles with absurd original-jurisdiction cases, some procedure decisions from SCOTUS today, with some interesting twists and background points.

Carney v. Adams involved a challenge to Delaware law controlling party affiliation for judges; a unanimous Court, per Justice Breyer, held the plaintiff lacked standing because he failed to show he was "able and ready" to do something to be injured by the challenged law. Bare testimony that he "would apply" for a judgeship but for the party limitations was insufficient to establish a particularized harm, especially when balanced against the sequence of events (he never applied for any judgeship, retired as an attorney, read a law review article about the invalidity of these party limits, unretired, changed his party affiliation from Democrat to Independent, then filed the lawsuit about a week later). Basically, he got Lujaned--he did not have the judicial-application equivalent of a plane ticket. Justice Sotomayor concurred to comment on some issues that might arise on the merits of a future challenge to laws such as these.

Tanzin v. Tanvir, unanimously per Justice Thomas, held that federal officers could be sued for damages under RFRA; the action was brought against FBI agents who allegedly placed three Muslim men on the "No Fly List" when they refused to act as informants. A lot of discussion. RFRA provides an express cause of action against governments, which includes officials and other persons acting under color of law, terms which include personal-capacity claims against government employees. The Court uses § 1983 to establish background understanding for concepts such as under color and damages as a remedy for constitutional violations.

Qualified immunity lurked in the background in Tanvin in two interesting respects. First, the Court drops in a footnote that everyone agrees that the officers can assert qualified immunity, which pre-ordains what will happen in this action on remand (it will not be clearly established that placing someone on the List in retaliation for not spying on their neighbors violates religious freedom). I guess it makes sense as a policy matter that qualified immunity applies. But why does it work as a statutory matter. The logic of qualified immunity and § 1983 is that a qualified-immunity-type defense existed at common law in 1871 and was incorporated as background in § 1983 in the absence of a plain statement rejecting the defense. (The dissimilarity between modern QI and what existed at common law is the basis for Will Baude's criticisms). The logic of qualified immunity and Bivens is that Bivens is the federal counterpart to § 1983. But what is the source of qualified immunity to assume it was incorporated (again by silence) into RFRA? I guess the argument would be that RFRA displaced § 1983 and Bivens and was modeled after both, so any defense built into these was built and incorporated into the new statute. (Update: Doug Laycock confirms this, along with the belief that QI was a necessary concession to get a damages remedy in the statute. Thomas describes the scope of § 1983 at the time of RFRA as permitting "monetary recovery against officials who violated 'clearly established' federal law.").

Second, Thomas is the one Justice who expressed an interest in at least reconsidering QI. It thus is interesting that he incorporates into RFRA the broad understanding of under color to include suits against any official acting as an official in his personal capacity. One argument for broad QI (as Will discusses in his article) is as a counterweight to a broad conception of under color--Screws/Monroe were wrong, so QI corrects that imbalance without overruling those cases. But I wonder what Thomas' broad adoption of under color means for his views on QI.

United States v. Briggs unanimously held that certain rape prosecutions under the UCMJ were timely, an unfortunate loss for Steve. Justice Gorsuch concurred to express his continuing view that SCOTUS lacks jurisdiction to review decisions from the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces (an Article I Court).

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 10, 2020 at 11:50 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, December 09, 2020

Hungary and Germany arguments

Here is my SCOTUSBlog recap of Monday's arguments in Hungary, which focused on comity abstention; the Germany argument focused on FSIA jurisdiction.

My (usually wrong) quick take is that the judges were sympathetic to the plaintiffs' arguments that abstention is categorically unavailable where FSIA accords jurisdiction. But several justices wondered whether that issue is mooted if it holds that the expropriation exception does not apply in Germany. I need to re-listen to the Germany argument; initial reports suggest at least some justices were skeptical of allowing FSIA's expropriation exception to reach these sorts of foreign genocide claims.

The lawyer for the plaintiffs in Germany mentioned abstention in his opening and closing, including with an awful baseball metaphor.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 9, 2020 at 10:13 AM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, December 07, 2020

Kraken the 11th Amendment

Judge Parker of the Eastern District of Michigan denied a preliminary injunction in the Michigan Kraken suit. One basis for dismissal, which I had not seen in these suits, was 11th Amendment. The court held that Ex Parte Young did not allow the § 1983 claims against the individual officers because the requested injunction is retroactive rather than prospective. EPY requires that the plaintiff seek prospective relief to end a continuing violation of federal law. This is not the mine-run EPY action, in which the plaintiff seeks to stop continuing enforcement of a constitutionally invalid law; the plaintiffs seek to "undo what has already occurred"--the certification of the election and the slate of Michigan electors.

This does not seem quite right to me. This is not a completed past violation. Plaintiffs do feel the ongoing effects of the constitutionally defective election and certification--the wrong candidate was certified as winner and the wrong electors appointed, in violation of these plaintiffs' constitutional rights. The relief, if granted, would have prospective effect--they would be back in the place they would be had the violative certification not occurred and in a position to have their rights remedied prospectively by a proper future certification. The analogy is a reinstatement claim, which is allowed under EPY--the unlawful firing occurred in the past, the plaintiff continues to feel the ongoing effects of the firing, and the court order will restore the plaintiff to where she would have been had she not been unlawfully fired.

The plaintiffs cannot get the remedy sought for other reasons--I doubt the court could order decertification, not to mention that their rights were not violated to begin with. But that does not mean the remedy is not "prospective" or the violation not "ongoing." Another way that all of these doctrines conflate jurisdiction, merits, and remedies.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 7, 2020 at 01:00 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (2)

Friday, December 04, 2020

It's been a long time since my civil procedure class

As the lawyer for President Trump said to a doubtful federal judge in the lawsuit challenging the election results. While asking a federal court to "remand" something to the Wisconsin legislature. I may need to replace or supplement the long-standing motto atop my course blog.

Meanwhile, I have to decide whether to give students the scheduling order from Chief Judge Pepper in the Wisconsin Kraken suit, in which she enumerates Sidney Powell's substantive and procedural mistakes, then agrees to decide the TRO motion on the pleadings and without evidence, as the plaintiff requested. Some of the stuff in the order will not make sense to students new to procedure. But it highlights what happens when you ignore or do not understand how courts operate.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 4, 2020 at 04:26 PM in Civil Procedure | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, December 02, 2020

Botching jurisdiction and merits, Ex. No. 613

Here is an awful jurisdiction/merits decision from the Fifth Circuit, involving the treatment of state action/under color in a § 1983 action. (H/T: Jack Preis).

A public-school educational aide sues a contract sheriff's deputy assigned to the school, claiming excessive force from the deputy punching him. The district court denies qualified immunity, while noting in passing some doubt about state action but that the defendant conceded the issue. The deputy appeals the Q/I denial under the collateral order doctrine. The Fifth Circuit remands, on the ground that by failing to determine action under color, the district court failed to establish its subject matter jurisdiction before ruling on the merits.

This is many shades of wrong. State action/action under color is an element of a § 1983 action and has nothing to do with the court's subject matter jurisdiction. This is true as a logical matter--merits ask who can sue whom and for what conduct, which is what state action determines in a constitutional case (whether this defendant can be sued for this conduct because it was under color). But it is especially true after Arbaugh and Morrison, which labels as merits issues those affecting the "reach" of a law, meaning what the law "prohibits"--what conduct (under color or not under color) can form the basis for liability in a § 1983 constitutional claim. It has nothing to do with subject-matter jurisdiction, which is established because federal law "creates" the rights plaintiff is asserting (Fourth Amendment) and his right of action (§ 1983).

The court may have found itself bound by a 1980 circuit precedent saying state action was required to "invoke the district court's jurisdiction." But that case (both the majority and dissent) uses the term jurisdiction in the thoughtless way the Court (particularly Justice Ginsburg) has tried to rein in the past twenty years. And it is inconsistent with how Morrison and Arbaugh framed the definition of merits issues. A Third Circuit panel was willing to overrule circuit precedent that could not stand in light of those recent cases. Perhaps this panel was unwilling to do the same. But then perhaps tee this for en banc review.

One other note: This decision is a stew of bad Fed Courts doctrine. The only reason the court was in position to consider the issue at this point is the immediate appealability of qualified-immunity denials, which some have argued contribute to the over-protection of police. Immediate review is designed to speed litigation. Instead, the court avoided immunity to create a new round of district-court (and probably appellate) litigation of an issue that should not have been before the court of appeals.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 2, 2020 at 04:24 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (1)

Federal Rules of Trumpist Procedure

I started to add this to my earlier post about Trumpist Procedure (great article title), but decided it needs to stand alone.

Powell's Wisconsin lawsuit, which includes a plaintiff who never agreed to the lawsuit, included a "Motion for Declaratory, Emergency, and Permanent Injunctive Relief." It had to be filed twice because the lawyers filed a draft. They filed both without saying whether they had provided notice to the defendants or otherwise complied with FRCP 65(b) and local rules or whether they wanted a hearing. The court issued an order refusing to do anything, which is the best kind of order. Brad Heath of Reuters put it well:

Just an amazing pattern of lawyers showing up with what they say are the most important cases ever filed and botching the basics. Even the President's lawyers screwed up the everyday rules for suing people. These are the mistakes you see when prisoners represent themselves.

Courts are going to have to figure this out. But I am not sure demanding that the Trumpist lawyers adhere to the rules, refusing to act if they do not is the solution, and issuing (rightfully) annoyed orders is the answer. First, doing so ignores that their point is to make official-sounding noise in any forum; a court with "rules" is no different than a Courtyard-by-Marriott without rules. Second, orders such as this one make the court, especially an Obama appointee, part of the expanding conspiracy.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 2, 2020 at 01:13 PM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (2)

Judges, procedure, and Trumpist litigators (Updated Again and Again and Moved to Top)

We have seen some strangeness the past two days over one of Sydney Powell's Kraken lawsuits in Georgia. That lawsuit seeks, among other things, an order seizing and impounding voting machines in the state and allowing plaintiffs to perform a forensic inspection. On Sunday afternoon, the court issued a scheduling order that included a TRO prohibiting the state from scrubbing data from the machines. Later, the court issued a second order, rescinding the TRO, apparently because the state does not control the machines; counties do and the counties were not sued. On Sunday evening, the court issued a third order following a Zoom conference, reinstating the TRO prohibiting defendants from scrubbing or allowing scrubbing of the machines, limited to three counties, apparently on the understanding that plaintiffs will amend the complaint to add them as defendants. This morning came a fourth order, certifying the third order for immediate review under § 1292(b).

Why the insanity? I agree with several online lawyer-commenters. The judge issued a routine, non-adversary scheduling order that sought to preserve the status quo. And Powell, Lin Wood, etc. reacted by taking to Twitter to crow about a giant initial step towards exposing the massive international voter-fraud conspiracy, a substantive victory. Then the defendants pointed out the problems with the litigation and thus with even that routine order--the plaintiffs sued the wrong people and the machines probably cannot be subject to a plaintiff-run forensic audit, at least without more allegations and proof of wrongdoing. And the court sought a middle ground by allowing someone (not clear who) to appeal an otherwise-unappealable order. And questions remain about what the controlling question of law could--whether it was proper to issue a TRO before the amended complaint was filed? whether a forensic audit is available? It might be that the 11th Circuit could reject any appeal (the court of appeals must agree with the district court's certification that appeal is appropriate).

The lesson is that courts must be as cautious as everyone else in these waters. Routine litigation is not routine litigation with these lawyers or with their public followers, because they are not here for judicial resolution. The most innocuous order or statement by the court will be seized upon and trumpeted either further evidence of the vast international conspiracy of which the judge is a part or as a heroic step by a heroic judge to stopping the greatest evil in human history. (Recall Jenna Ellis's insistence that Giuliani had won the argument in the MDPa case, as evidenced by the judge recommending places for the lawyers to get a drink). But unless courts begin to use the tools at their disposal to stop these abuses, they must think twice about even the smallest procedural step or statement.

Updated on Tuesday: Politico has the full story based on the transcript of the Sunday conference, with commentary. The first two orders were proposed drafts circulated among the court and parties that were publicly disclosed and promoted by plaintiff counsel, thus far without consequence. The judge seems less unreceptive to these allegations than others; while stating that the allegations are backed by "precious little proof," he appears to take them as sufficiently plausible to warrant ordering limited preservation. The § 1292(b) order was entered in response to the state's desire to appeal, although still no word on the controlling question of law. No appeal has been filed.

My basis point in this post stands: Trumpist litigators are going to abuse the system. And judges have to be ready for it.

Updated on Wednesday: Instead, the plaintiffs appealed the TRO granting them narrow relief (no clearing machines in three counties). And they did not rely on the § 1292(b) certification, which appears to have been at the state's request. Instead, plaintiffs argue that this is an appeal as of right of an injunction under § 1292(a), based on Eleventh Circuit precedent from the Terri Schiavo litigation treating a TRO as an appealable preliminary injunction where the grant or denial "might have a serious, perhaps irreparable, consequence, and can be effectually challenged only by immediate appeal." In Schiavo, the consequence was that Schiavo would die; I doubt the consequences here are so grave.

Meanwhile, the notice of appeal argued that the appeal divests the district court of jurisdiction. This caused the district court to stay its scheduling order, including the briefing schedule (state briefs were due today) and a Friday hearing, both of which are off. This was unnecessary and probably unwise, because the district court must begin anew when the case returns (probably quickly) from the court of appeals. The district court was was not pleased, stating in the order that any delay in briefing and holding a hearing upon remand would be attributable to the plaintiffs and not the court.

Mike Dunford has more on how bad the lawyering has been in this case. Again, my basic point: This is about using the system to put on a show for a segment of the public. 

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 2, 2020 at 08:32 AM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (5)

Tuesday, December 01, 2020

Defending Trump's lawyers on hearsay (Updated Twice)

The Trump Campaign is attempting to appeal an early defeat in Michigan state court. A core piece of evidence was an affidavit by Trump poll watcher Jessica Connarn, testifying that an unknown poll worker had come to hear, in tears, and told her that another unknown poll worker had told her to change the dates on ballots. The trial court rejected this as hearsay-within-hearsay. The brief argues that Connarn's affidavit is not hearsay, because she was describing her first-hand impressions (that the unknown poll worker spoke, that she was crying, that other people yelled at her). The arguments have drawn the scorn of law Twitter.

I want to offer an argument that some of this is not necessarily inadmissible hearsay, although not for the reasons the Campaign argues in its brief.

There are two layers of hearsay--Unknown poll worker # 1 to Connarn and Unknown Poll Worker # 2 to Unknown Poll Worker # 1. Connarn can describe what she saw UPW #1 do. But the Campaign wants her to testify to what UPW #1 said UPW #2 said. That is the additional layer the Campaign seems to ignore.

As I like to map these problems for class:

    Connarn---UPW # 1 ("Someone told me to change the dates")---UPW # 2 ("Change the dates")

In a case with multiple declarants, each layer must be admissible under the rules. Working from the outside in until we get to the witness:

    # 2 to # 1: We do not know what was said. But it seems that #2's words to #1 are a command ("change the dates"), which is not a statement. Alternatively, and more powerfully, the command to change the dates is the unlawful conduct--manipulating ballots--alleged in the case. So what # 2 said to # 1 is a verbal act (the wrongdoing of commanding the change of dates requires words) which is not treated as a statement offered T/M/A. If # 1 testified, I do not think hearsay would bar her from testifying to what # 2 told her to do.

    #1 to Connarn: This is a statement (# 1 asserts that # 2 told # 1 to do this) and it is offered T/M/A (it must be true that # 2 told #1 to do this). But if # 1 was crying, does that make this an excited utterance--she is describing the event (being ordered to change the dates) while under the stress of excitement (shown by her crying) caused by being order to change the dates. Perhaps not, but that is the argument the Campaign could make; that it is not making it shows how bad the lawyering is.

To be sure, there are reliability concerns with Connarn's testimony, since both declarants are unknown and she probably has serious credibility problems. Perhaps that undermines the relevancy. Or perhaps it triggers a solid 403 objection. Or perhaps a court decides that the second statement (# 1 to Connarn) is not admissible as an excited utterance because the specific circumstances of the particular statement (unknown people reporting something to an unreliable witness) indicate untrustworthiness--some courts add this element to the 803(2) analysis. But I do not  think it is as simple as saying "this is hearsay."

Please tell me why I am wrong.

Update: The commenter below says there is an additional layer of hearsay--Connarn did not speak to the crying poll worker, but was told by an unknown Republican poll challenger about what the crying UPW #1 said. Looking at the Affidavit, this is right. The affidavit says: "I was approached by a Republican Party poll challenger, who stated that a hired poll worker of the TCF Center, in Wayne County, Michigan, was nearly in tears because she was being told by other hired poll workers at her table to change the date the ballot was received when entering ballots into the computer."

So, as the commenter says, on my model we have:

    Connaran--GOP--UPW #1---UPW #2.

There is no argument to get that new innermost leg (GOP to Connaran) in under the rules. Even if the GOP person was crying or speaking right after it happened, she is describing/upset by what she was told by UPW #1 and Connaran is repeating that for T/M/A. I give a similar example in class to distinguish a declarant excited by and describing an event and a declarant excited by and repeating what someone else says about an event.

But if this is correct, Thor may be in some trouble. Here is how the brief summarizes Connaran's affidavit:

    p.4: Jessica Connarn testified in her affidavit that she personally witnessed a poll worker’s distress because that poll worker was instructed to count ineligible ballots being tallied as lawful votes at the Detroit central counting board.

    p.17: Jessica Connarn’s affidavit describes how an election poll worker told Jessica Connarn that the poll worker “was being told to change the date on ballots to reflect that the ballots were received on an earlier date.”

    p.22: Jessica Connarn’s affidavit describes how an election poll worker told Jessica Connarn that the poll worker “was being told to change the date on ballots to reflect that the ballots were received on an earlier date.”

The brief three times states that  crying UPW # 1 told Connarn personally, not the "Republican poll challenger," about the date-change command. Unless Connarn submitted a second affidavit at some point. Which then puts her to the task of explaining away the contradictory sworn testimony.

Updated Again: Unless (I know, I am spending too much time on this): One could read the original affidavit (not the situation described in the brief) a bit differently: Not as the GOP challenger being told by # 1 what # 2 had told her to do, but as the GOP challenger having witnessed first-hand the exchange between #1 and #2 and reported it to Connarn. The affidavit does not make clear how GOP found out what # 2 told # 1. So perhaps we have:

    Connarn---GOP ("2 told # 1 to change dates and # 1 was crying")---#2 ("change dates")

#2's statement remains a verbal act, witnessed by GOP and about which GOP could testify without hearsay objection. What about that inner leg from GOP to Connarn? I think it could be a present sense impression, depending on when GOP spoke to Connarn, or an excited utterance, if GOP was somehow upset by what she witnessed and is describing; we need some foundation. Either way, GOP is describing an event or condition (#2's verbal act) to the person who will take the stand.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 1, 2020 at 02:49 PM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (4)

Saturday, November 28, 2020

More state universality (Updated)

A judge in the Eastern District of Kentucky enjoined a Kentucky executive order closing schools, finding it violated the First Amendment rights of a K-12 religious school. (H/T: Eugene Volokh). It is unsurprising in its analysis--the order was not generally applicable because it applied to K-12 schools but not preschools or colleges and universities. Whatever--I have given up reading these decisions as anything other than a sub silentio reading of the First Amendment to opt-outs for religious institutions and behaviors, no matter the societal costs. Update: The Sixth Circuit reversed.

More interesting to me is that the court made the injunction universal/non-particularized, prohibiting enforcement of the EO as to all religious schools, not only the plaintiff. The court did not use the words universal or non-particularized and did not acknowledge the ongoing scope-of-injunction controversy, while providing further evidence that this issue is not limited to challenges to federal law. I presume the key here is that the lawsuit was brought not only by the school, but also by the Attorney General on behalf of the Commonwealth. "Complete relief" for the AG must protect all members of the public.

In the Before Times of 2018, I spoke on universal injunctions before the meeting of the National Association of Attorneys General. I suggested they might be of two minds on the issue. On one hand, universality works against them as the defendants to be enjoined from enforcing many state laws. On the other hand, they want universality when suing the federal government to stpp. This is a third hand--the AG suing the Governor to stop enforcement of a provision of state law.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on November 28, 2020 at 12:29 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)